Review: Batman: One Bad Day: Bane hardcover (DC Comics)

Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter’s Batman: One Bad Day: Bane still does not quite live up to my (subjective, arbitrary) standards for what a “One Bad Day” story should be, but it is one of the better books of this series. If still not at the level of Batman: One Bad Day: Riddler, it edges out Penguin for second place.

There’s no shortage of challenges here. Insofar as the “One Bad Day” titles, in the tradition of Batman: The Killing Joke, are meant to be origin-ish stories, Bane’s past has been well mined through Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan’s classic “Vengeance of Bane” specials. Equally, while many of the “One Bad Day” books have referenced modern continuity often to their detriment, Williamson likely can’t help it in Bane; that Bane killed Alfred Pennyworth is too significant to ignore, even though that’ll surely be reversed in a decade’s time. Too, Williamson has the unenviable task of writing Bane and Batman’s first major encounter since City of Bane.

Williamson sidesteps much of this through an unexpected take — on Bane, on even what “one bad day” refers to — though I still felt Williamson’s Bane was very much in character. Howard Porter, in more than 25 years since JLA, has only improved upon his original excellence, drawing with grace (even expertly depicting gore like we haven’t seen from him before) that befits an artist at the top of his game. As I’ve noted with others, maybe it’s just that “One Bad Day” is a bad fit for this book; as simply a Bane special, this one’s a keeper.

[Review contains spoilers]

“The Last Vengeance of Bane,” as the story’s called, starts with the premise of a future Bane who finally indeed killed Batman. As we learn through flashback, however, Bane did not kill Batman, but rather the two teamed up to eradicate the Venom drug, even gaining a grudging partnership despite Bane having killed Alfred. Ultimately, Batman sacrificed himself on Bane’s behalf to stop a villain releasing Venom over Gotham, and now Bane works again to destroy all Venom to “honor Batman’s sacrifice.”

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

A hero turn is not unusual for Bane — we’ve seen it from Dixon and Nolan themselves through to Gail Simone’s Secret Six, with Tom King’s City of Bane really being a bit of an anomaly for Bane’s evolution. That a “One Bad Day” story should include villain-as-antihero is unexpected; both Killing Joke and Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler are stories of the Joker and Riddler at their worst. One Bad Day: Penguin offers Oswald Cobblepot as protagonist, but certainly not as hero — his aim is to restore his own criminal position, not to take drugs off the street. We’ve a wonderful conundrum here — this is a story of Bane exceptionally true to who Bane is, but who Bane is perhaps makes him the wrong kind of character for a “One Bad Day” story.

A difficulty some of the “One Bad Day” stories have had — Two-Face, Mr. Freeze — is that the character’s titular “defining” bad days are already pretty well established. Bane, too — we’ve seen his mother die, we’ve seen him grow up in prison, we’ve seen an ill-fated tussle with Azrael. Williamson takes the unusual, beautiful step of making Bane’s “worst day” instead one that was originally triumphant — the day he broke Batman’s back. Bane stops short of apologizing to an imaginary Bruce Wayne, but he at least recognizes himself as having peaked too early and allowing himself to be defined by that one fleeting accomplishment.

Elements that Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler has — ones that cause me to see it as a worthy successor to Killing Joke — include a "I came to talk"-like conversation, a lofty “burn it all down”-type scheme, and the question of whether Batman kills the villain in the end. Bane has neither of the first two — the major action is not a scheme by Bane at all — nor the third, though I did think we might be going there, figuratively, in the final hospital scene. Bane offers himself for ghost-Bruce to kill, but Bruce declines. At the same time, at the end of the book Bane seems to have denounced his former identity, burning his prized Gotham Gazette; you could say Bane has been “killed,” but that’s not quite the rainy fade-to-black I’m looking for.

Even from JLA to Flash and then, many years later, Flash again, I’ve never seen Howard Porter like this. The painterly style we have seen on Trials of Shazam, which here balances out Porter’s trademark angles and overall raises Bane’s struggles to the near mythological. But in his bright superheroics, I’ve never seen Porter do horror before, bodies exploded to pieces, jaws bloodily ripped off and then cast aside. I thought the “One Bad Day” books were Black Label — they’re not — but that hasn’t stopped a few of them from underscoring their points with some tactical maturity. I’d be happy to see this new side of Porter again.

And so, again, Batman: One Bad Day: Bane is a great Bane story. Joshua Williamson gets Bane’s many sides and puts them all on display, and even manages to reconcile some sharp edges, too. In bringing Bane full circle with characters from Batman: Venom, Williamson earns every inch of the “Last Vengeance of Bane” title. Astoundingly, it is ultimately too hopeful, too redemptive, for what I’d consider “One Bad Day.” You should check it out nonetheless.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs, black and white art section]

Rating 3.5


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